Thursday, August 18, 2011

Some Final Thoughts on Indianapolis

Barring some new revelations, I’d like answer some questions that have come via comments on the blog and Facebook, as a way to wrap-up this blog's coverage of Saturday's disaster. 

You wrote about the Hyatt Regency collapse, are there any similarities between it and Indianapolis?

As a non-engineer, one thing comes to mind: The Hyatt walkways that collapsed and killed 114 were one-of-a-kind structures and each of these outdoor stages is, apparently, one of a kind.  It does seem logical that there needs to be extra attention paid to non-standard designs.

There is more on the engineering aspects of the stage collapse from an expert, here

One commenter said we need something like the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate incidents like this.

I have concerns, as do others, about the Indiana government investigating the Indiana government. That, at minimum, appears to be a conflict of interest.

As I said in my response to the commenter, I have worked with the NTSB in both aviation and surface transportation investigations and am generally a fan. But, structural collapses are rare. I’m not sure we need another layer of government to investigate these rare events (what will they do the rest of the time?). There is an engineering firm out of Dallas that has been brought in that has a good reputation. Let’s see what that report has to say.

Another commenter talked about the “lawsuit happy environment."  

Not being an attorney, I don’t know about the legal environment. However, my friend David Rapoport, an attorney in Chicago, has commented on his blog and that comment is here.

Finally, another commenter talked about the apparent overruling of the on-site meteorologist by non-meteorologist fair officials being analogous to management (“we have the ‘big picture’”) overruling engineers.

Yes, I see how that may have played a role. “Dilbert” has had a twenty-year run on that topic. 

But, I continue to believe that a significant amount of the problem is that the vast majority of people are unaware of the huge progress in storm warning accuracy the last decade. I offer as evidence one of several similar comments at “WattsUpWithThat” on a topic completely different from the stage collapse:
I believe, based on their own comments quoted in the media, that Fair officials simply didn't grasp the level of urgency conveyed by the warnings and/or didn't understand the warnings they were receiving (i.e., what is the definition of a 'severe' thunderstorm?).  

Again, I strongly urge people to consider reading Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather. It is non-technical (written in the style of a novel even though it is a true story) and a fast read. I mention this because, until the storm warning system achieves the credibility it deserves, these needless disasters will continue to occur. Storm warnings need -- and deserve -- to be headed!

To the thousands of new readers of this blog, thank you for visiting. Please come back under happier circumstances. 


  1. And it has happened again, in Brussels, Belgium see

  2. Thanks for the link! I do have to say, though, that while I've worked in the live entertainment business for many years, and have worked on a variety of outdoor stages, I'm not an engineer and structures are not my expertise. I'm just a person in the entertainment industry who's also a weather geek, who's really pissed off about this situation. I do link to an engineering expert in my blog, and also to the engineering standard relevant to this kind of stage.

    Congratulations on your work on this storm--I just wish the Fair had hired you, and none of us would be writing any of this.